Joshua Tree National Park covers 1,200 square miles, if you can believe it! The park has three entrances. We have taken trips into all entrances, and I encourage you to utilize the West entrance, 5 miles south of the 62 on Park blvd.
There's a few things to keep in mind right away before heading to J-tree
The drive in from the West entrance is absolutely gorgeous. Joshua Tree National Park was established in 1994. The name Joshua Tree was actually given by a group of Mormon settlers, who in the 19th century, crossed this desert. The Joshua trees reminded them of the biblical tale where Joshua reaches his arms to the sky in prayer. They are glorious and really bizarre trees, also known as Yucca brevifolia, which are unique to the North American South West. From the West entrance you will see "forests" of these beauties, ranging in size, shape, and number of arms!
From the West entrance, Chris and I headed right to one of our favorite spots in the park, Jumbo Rock. The drive to Jumbo Rock from the West entrance is approximately 30 minutes. Keep in mind that Jumbo Rock is a camping ground and also popular for it's unique, flowing rocks patterns. It can be a tourist area, but fear not! It's easy to drive just a little ways away and have the place to yourself. These rocks have been shaped over millions of years of erosion. In some areas they are reminiscent of ocean waves, while others are intricate structures that look like they could fall at any moment!
Jumbo Rock, and the several miles of the same terrain around it, offers so much! If you are interested in rock climbing, bring your equipment! You can rock climb the face of very large rocks, something I haven't dared to do yet. Instead, Chris and I "boulder". "Bouldering" is a form of rock climbing where you climb the boulders and jump between them when it's safe. You'll find wildlife like rabbits, chipmunks, various birds, and reptiles. You will also find yourself in little caves, which are fun to explore! It's an adrenalin rush because it's hard not to wonder when those boulders are going to fall!
Jumbo Rock campgrounds are an excellent place to rest and get lunch. If you're lucky, you will find a shaded picnic table. After our picnic we headed back towards the West entrance, stopping at Ryan's Mountain trail head. Ryan's Mountain hike is strenuous and should not be completed on a really hot day. It's 3 miles round trip, taking about 1.5 hours and bringing you up and down 1000 feet in altitude. You can see beautiful views from here, but there are some tight corners!
After Ryan's exhausting hike, we decided to visit Key's View for the sunset. Key's View is easy to get to, but can take some time. From the West park entrance, you're talking at least 30 minutes of drive time. It took us about 30 minutes from Jumbo Rock to Key's View.
From Key's View you can see so many amazing things:
When you get to key's View, you will see a paved trail to the left. Check this out! However, don't get duped into thinking this is the place for the best views. Secret trail tip: park on the right side of the lot. If you look closely, you will notice two small dirt openings. Take the one to the far right and start working your way up. The trail will become clearer and will take you to the glorious views you see in the picture above. The wind is strong and the altitude will make you a little dizzy, but these were some of the most stunning views I have ever seen!
Make sure you stay for the sunset, this is what draws everyone here. However, get there early! There are only a dozen or so parking spots and unlike the rest of the park, the streets have curbs so you can't park on the dirt. Then stake out a spot for the beautiful view of the sunset.
Tip: It's WINDY! Windy, but also chilly. Wear a jacket, maybe even a hat, and perhaps a blanket to cuddle up!
It will take you an hour to get from Key's View back to civilization, and by civilization, I mean a very small town of necessities! If you want to reach more food and stores like Walmart, you will drive West about 20 minutes. For a little kitch, turn right on Pioneer town Rd. and drive through the mountains about 10 minutes until you reach Pioneer town, a cute little old fashioned Western town! You can pet baby goats, feed chickens, buy kitchy memories, and depending on the time of the month, you can see gun slinging competitions and a cattle run! Be careful though, they jail your dogs! (Just kidding, we jailed him for the sake of his hilarious expression).
There is so much to see and do in Joshua Tree it makes sense to camp or try to come for several days, however, if you have just one full day, this is a good itinerary!
9am visit Pioneertown (or come at night. There are some restaurants up there as well)
10am drive to Joshua Tree West entrance (30-40 minute drive)
11am enter the park (there may be a small wait to buy your pass)
11:30am-1:30pm Arrive to Jumbo Rock and hike, boulder, and rock climb!
1:30pm Yummy picnic lunch among the boulders and some rest
3pm arrive at Ryan Mountain trail head
By 5pm, head over to Key's View (or at about 2 hours before the sunset)
5:30pm+ arrive to Key's View, hike the local mountain all the way to the top, hike around the local trails, watch the beautiful sunset.
We headed back on the road before the sun had completely set. This helped us avoid the slow traffic of all the people leaving at the same time. This is not a Joshua Tree guide for the faint of heart. This is a moderate to strenuous series of hikes depending on how hot it is, but you have the ability to control how difficult this day is by hiking just part of Ryan's Mountain. Jumbo Rock gives you the ability to play and hike as long as you'd like, Ryan's Mountain is a round trip hike, and Key's View can be as restful and peaceful as you need!